Last Friday (Oct. 10th), I had the pleasure of attending the monthly Dutch community of Beijing’s hangout. Each month on the first Friday, many Dutch people living in Beijing will meet for drinks and conversation. While I was attending this event, I was talking to my friend Alexander, who also works in the O&G industry, and we were talking about Chinese State Owned Enterprise websites. So, I thought it would be interesting to share some of the realizations we had about Chinese State Owned Enterprise websites and talk about a possible untapped market.
Chinese State Owned Enterprise Websites and Design overview
I work for the international marketing department of GWDC – CNPC, which is a state owned enterprise, so I spend less time on Chinese state owned enterprise websites, but I have seen my fair share. According to my friend, who sells products to Chinese companies, Chinese state owned enterprise websites are terrible. The design, content, and overall user experience leaves a lot to be desired. Here are a few examples:
- Greatwall Drilling Company (my employer)
- China National Nuclear Corporation
- China State Shipbuilding Corporation
- State Grid Corporation of China
- China Unicom
- China Minmetals Corporation
As you can see in the examples above, these state owned websites are terrible and appear to have been created in the early 2000’s. Many state owned enterprises are trying to become more global, but they are neglecting their most important marketing channel. China Unicom, pictured below, has not updated their English news section in over 3 years! Also, my company hasn’t updated our news since 2011.
We can see that many of the websites have similar designs and many have been neglected. The English section of many state owned sites has been created but not maintained leaving many to wonder if the company is still in business or seeking international business. Digital marketing is becoming more important and people researching Chinese state owned enterprises are most likely to start with an online search and looking at the company’s website. These state owned enterprises are missing an important opportunity to communicate with current and potential clients.
One of the major barriers in creating effective and useful websites is English speaking/writing staff. Many of the Chinese state owned enterprise websites are lacking clear and well written English content. The websites have been setup and populated with English content and then forgotten, because the department in charge does not have the English language skills needed to maintain a dynamic website. From the example above, we can see that the site was maintained from 2008 until 2011. There are regular news updates, but in 2011, the updates stop. The most likely scenario is their English speaking staff quit or was removed. Leaving the website and the content to be forgotten.
Another major barrier is control. State owned enterprises are very political and control equals power. In every company, someone has control of the website. Ideally, this person should be in the marketing department, but unfortunately the website is controlled by the “Media” or “IT” department in many state owned enterprises. This leads to many political situations that are not worth fighting over in order to maintain an English website for marketing purposes.
The last, but not least, barrier is lack of marketing skills and knowledge. State owned enterprises seem to be stuck in the past. This is not always the fault of the employees, but none the less, it seems to be a fact. The marketing techniques that are often used by state owned enterprises are often outdated and are not cutting edge, which means if a state owned enterprise has English speaking/writing staff and access to the website, they still might not understand website and online marketing techniques. All these barriers and more are the reason that many Chinese state owned enterprise websites look and feel outdated.
Possible Market Opportunity
With all the power struggles, lack of English content, and outdated techniques; you might be wondering how or where the market opportunity lies within the minefield that is the state owned enterprise. I feel there are two possible market opportunities, one for individuals and one for agencies.
The first opportunity is for individuals that are willing to navigate the state owned enterprise. An individual that is interested in online marketing and website management could reach out to the enterprise and apply for a position as the online English content marketing coordinator/manager. This would take some finesse and most likely Chinese language ability, but I believe that this position is unfilled in most state owned enterprises. With the right pitch, I believe an individual could secure this type of position, but the pitch must clearly state the value to the current controller of the website (i.e. more sales, promotion, more power, etc).
The second opportunity is for agencies that are willing to engage with state owned enterprises. Again, the agency must clearly state the value to the current controller of the website in the pitch. An agency could manage, control, and produce English content for a state owned enterprise, but they must demonstrate how it will benefit the company and the individual in charge of the website.
As more state owned enterprises and Chinese companies start to become more international, I believe there will be more opportunities for individuals and agencies that are willing to fill this gap. Currently, there are many Chinese company websites that have been translated into English or that have an English built section, but these websites are poorly designed, managed, and updated. This leaves a large gap in many Chinese companies’ international marketing efforts and I feel in the next 5-10 years agencies and individuals will have an opportunity to fill that gap.
What do you think about Chinese state owned enterprise websites? What do you think about this possible opportunity? Any other thoughts?